Before I begin, I must provide a spoiler warning to those who have yet to experience the wonders of Inception. To ruin any unbridled enjoyment of Christopher Nolan’s supreme artistry would be sacrilege to one of the most important films in recent years.
With Inception, Christopher Nolan has reminded us of how films can, and should, be made. Most remarkably, Inception is anything but what we would consider to be a modern blockbuster, where the cerebral nature of the film feels as thought provoking and challenging as an art-house independent production. As a consequence there has been a wide-ranging and polarized debate concerning the film.
What shouldn’t be ignored however is the pure scale and ambition of a project that is clearly very dear to Nolan’s heart. While the notion of an idea can be both extracted from and planted in the mind in Inception, the idea for this quite unique film has been containing itself in Nolan’s own mind for a number of years. Though he has become synonymous with the multi billion-dollar success of the Batman reboots, Nolan has continued to work in his own inimitable style, garnering critical acclaim with films such as the chillingly remade Insomnia, the shadowy mystery of The Prestige and most notably the psychological thriller Memento.
Since Nolan’s first full-length production Following, there has been a recurring theme of distorted memory and the notion that your memory can be misleading. Just as Memento explores the idea of memory as interpretation as opposed to fact, Inception explores, through corporate ‘extractor’ Dom Cobb, the notion that memories can be volatile and that his projection of his wife Mal in the dream state is not a true reflection of the ‘real’ Mal. Nolan continually challenges the concepts of reality and that our memories can misinterpret events and ultimately distort the truth. Inception thus explores the possibilities of uncovering memories within our own subconscious and challenging us to accept them, as opposed to locking them away as Cobb attempts to.
Very rarely is a film presented as a puzzle for the audience to solve or decode, this technique of confusing the audience is common practice within the Nolan discourse and offers the possibility of multiple experiences within a single film. Christopher Nolan has often spoken of his love for returning to particular films and having the ability to gain a new or different experience from them. Inception has this ability and provides it in abundance.
While the world of dreams may begin to baffle many as the levels of dream states increase, as we tumble further down the rabbit hole and the layers of detail and emotional stakes gather momentum, they are done not without purpose or intent. Remarkably, Nolan shows great control in plotting his narrative precisely without losing sight of the end. There are rules and boundaries set within Inception‘s dream worlds, they are deliberately rigid with only elements taken from reality in order to restrain Inception from becoming pure fantasy. If there has been criticism towards Nolan’s filmmaking it has been aimed at his creation of film spaces that are heavily grounded in reality. The Dark Knight found criticism for its ‘Chicago-esque’ setting of Gotham City and a lack of fantasy vision. But by adhering to a set of boundaries and rules, Nolan is able to make his film linger in your mind as the worlds he creates feel genuine, as if they could possibly exist outside of the cinema.
This is not to say that Inception is without twists and turns: indeed as ‘architect’ Ariadne continues her journey in following Cobb into his dreams and memories, the plot’s convolutions begin to unravel and fall into place. Whether Cobb in fact returns to his children in the real world or a dream world that he has created for himself remains a mystery. Thus, the cerebral nature of the film leaves the conclusion open to interpretation.
There is no open or closed solution to Inception, only the deductions that we make in our own mind. With Internet forums already full of interesting discussions and theories on Inception’s meaning, finally there is a film in recent memory that is worthy of cultural recognition, a film that is so full of ideas that we cannot dispose of it hastily.
To fully trust Inception is a faith that is dutifully repaid, and repaid in such a profound way that Inception becomes a film that rises above the incessant droning of lobotomised filmmakers, respects the audience’s intelligence and shows them what they truly want to see.